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SPOTLIGHT: Q&A with Director Fred Abarhamse about ‘THE LADY AOI’

Barbara Loots


Abrahamse & Meyer Productions brings Yukio Mishima's THE LADY AOI to the Artscape Theatre from 17 November to 4 December. The production first played to standing ovations in the USA in 2014 and 2019, and now, in 2021, is set to entice Cape Town theatre lovers. We asked director, Fred Abrahamse, about his journey with this masterpiece of Mishima.

TC: What about Yukio Mishima’s THE LADY AOI spoke to you and inspired you to want to bring it to stage?

FA: Anyone who has ever been in love and felt the pain of knowing the person you are in love with is not in love with you can relate to this play. The remarkable thing about Mishima’s play is that is a haiku of a play – intensely and poetically distilled. Only nine typed pages, but in performance The Lady Aoi blossoms into an hour-long meditation on love, loss, longing and regret. This play is truly theatrical in that all it requires is two actors and the speaking of a profoundly beautiful text to make the act of theatre happen.

TC: How would you describe the aesthetic of the play?

FA: Mishima was often referred to as a writer of “voluptuous excess”. Classic Noh drama is celebrated for his extreme stylization and Zen-like austerity. So, I guess, the best description of the aesthetic of this play would be "voluptuous excess meets Zen minimalism".

TC: What has your approach been in directing this play? Are you greatly inspired by Yukio Mishima style of theatre?

FA: Mishima was inspired by a variety of forms and styles, both Western and Japanese, when he started working on his series of modern Noh plays. Likewise, I took an equally eclectic approach to the direction of the play. Homage is paid to classic Noh, while at the same time finding inspiration in contemporary Japanese dance-drama like Butoh and Japan’s long history of puppet theatre. As always, the inspiration is the playwright and his text – and trying to find the most effective ways to give breath and life to the playwright’s original intentions and ideas.

TC: The themes of the play include unrequited love, obsession, passion, and possession. These, one could argue, are almost timeless themes interpreted throughout the history theatre as it is intrinsically associated with human nature. How does the play give these themes a modern twist?

FA: That is the incredible thing about this play. The inspiration for THE LADY AOI dates back a thousand years to the 11th century, when Lady Murasaki penned her novel, The Tale of Prince Genji in 1021 A.D. Four hundred years later, Zeami Motokiyo adapted an episode from the novel into the classic Noh drama, which Yukio Mishima would then rework in the mid-twentieth century into his modern Noh play. Here we are a thousand years later in 2021, still relating to the same situations and themes. The more things change the more they stay the same. Mishima brilliantly updates the context of the play by transforming Lady Rakujo’s carriage into a sleek automobile and by insinuating that Freudian psychology is as much a type of mythmaking as is a belief in vampiric ghosts.

TC: This production is described as a dazzling fusion of visual and physical theatre, puppetry, mask work, original music, and sumptuous design. What about the fusion aspect of the production excites you most?

FA: One of the things that makes theatre unique, is its dependence on so many people’s different talents to create a single work of art. When all these elements come together in a cohesive way in service of a brilliant text – the true magic of theatre happens. Both Charl-Johan Lingenfelder (music) and Faheem Bardien (lighting design) have been long-time collaborative partners and both Charl and Faheem have outdone themselves on this production. Their respective contributions are truly inspired. The collaborative process is what keeps me returning to the art of theatre. You always learn, grow, and expand yourself as a creative artist because of the inspiration you receive from your collaborators.

TC: The American press described the production as “eerily sexy”. Without giving too much away, which part or component of the play lends itself most to that description?

FA: In the early 20th century a movement called "Ero guro" became popular in Japanese art, literature, and performance. "Ero guro" means "erotic grotesque" and Mishima’s fiction and theatre work embraces this concept of sexuality, sensuality and seduction in confluence with the macabre, the grotesque, and the obscene wholeheartedly. For Mishima beauty and death were always connected and inseparable. Being ‘eerily sexy’ is intrinsic to the very fibre of this play.

TC: Tell us about the heart of the production? Why should audiences come and see THE LADY AOI?

FA: At the heart of this production is the incredible text by Yukio Mishima. Mishima, undoubtedly, was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and audience should come and see THE LADY AOI to share in a unique vision of the human condition as expressed by one of the most visionary writers of all time.

THE LADY AOI by Yukio Mishima is the first production in an exciting summer season of World Theatre that Abrahamse & Meyer have lined up at the Artscape Theatre Centre. Abrahamse & Meyer Productions present Starring Marcel Meyer and Matthew Baldwin Directed by Fred Abrahamse Original Score by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder Lighting Design by Faheem Bardien Set, Costume, Puppetry Design & Construction by Fred Abrahamse & Marcel Meyer Venue: Artscape Arena Dates: 17 November till 4 December 2021 Performances times: Mon – Fridays at 19:00 and 15:00 and 18:00 on Saturdays Running Time: 55 minutes [no interval] Tickets: R250 per ticket Booking: Computicket


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